So you want to… be a curator.

Have resumes and cover letters become your (least) favorite new hobby? Times are tough out there for recent graduates and young professionals – competition is fierce and you can’t be an intern forever.  In our new blog series, So you want to…, our museum staff offers advice and inspiration for pursuing an arts career. Don’t worry– all those applications will eventually turn into an interview!

Denise Markonish has curated multiple exhibitions at MASS MoCA, including, most recently, Oh Canada, the largest survey of contemporary Canadian art ever produced outside of Canada. With Susan Cross, she co-edited the book Sol LeWitt: 100 Views (Yale University Press) in conjunction with MASS MoCA’s monumental Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective exhibit. Prior to her work at MASS MoCA, Markonish curated at Artspace (New Haven, CT), the Fuller Museum (Brockton, MA), and the Main Line Art Center (Haverford, PA). Markonish earned her Bachelor’s degree at Brandeis University and her Master’s degree at Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies.

What is the best career advice you ever received?

I don’t think it was so much advice as just watching how others negotiated the art world. Early on, when I was around 19 years old, I interned at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University; I remember that the director at the time, Carl Belz, once pulled me aside and brought me into the storage vault. He pulled out one painting after the next and asked me what I thought. It took me a moment to realize that he really did want my opinion. This was extremely powerful—to realize that no matter what my age or experience, my opinion and ideas around art mattered. I think this has stayed with me and influences how I operate today.

I was told early on that it doesn’t matter where you are; you can bring great art everywhere. Starting out in the art field, I think everyone thinks you have to go to NYC to make it. I purposely never went there and have had amazing experiences bringing art to different communities.

What was a formative art experience for you as a young person?

When I was a high school senior at Brockton High School (Brockton, MA), we went on a field trip to the Fuller Art Museum. I remember we met with the curator, and I had no idea that it was actually a job. It was at that moment that I knew what I wanted to do.

I had another key art moment when I was much younger as well, but I don’t think I realized how important it was until decades later… when I was about 12 years old, I went on a family vacation in Toronto and saw two public sculptures: one on the side of the Toronto Sky Dome of photographers leaning out of a box to take pictures of the crowd below and the other in Eaton Centre (a large shopping mall) of Canadian geese flying in the air. Later I would realize that these were both sculptures by Michael Snow, one of the most important living Canadian artists. I figured this out in college after seeing Michael’s film “Wavelength,” probably one of my all time favorites. I am so lucky to have worked with Michael once in Connecticut and then again in MASS MoCA’s Oh, Canada exhibition.

What is the biggest shift you have witnessed in the museum field?

I think the biggest shift I have seen in the museum field as of late is the rise of the biennial exhibition. It seems like in the last decade there are twice as many international biennials than before. I have yet to decide if I think this is a good or a bad thing. In theory, getting art out there and taking stock of it is great, but it seems that a lot of the same artists are on this circuit, which makes it seems a little predicable to me. That was one of the main reasons I chose to do the Oh, Canada show, as these were artists that I didn’t feel were getting the same attention on this biennial circuit.

If you could work in any other field, what would it be? Why?

I don’t think could actually or would actually ever want to do anything else. I love what I do and feel very lucky to be able to do it!

Fill in the blank: The future of the arts depends on artists. (Our director, Joe Thompson said the same thing!)

Do you have questions for next week’s So you want to…? Tweet them @MASS_MoCA!

Posted December 18, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Canada, Exhibitions, Interns, Museum Education, Oh Canada, Staff, Uncategorized
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Behind-the-Scenes with our Curatorial Assistant

Do you ever wonder what it takes to bring MASS MoCA’s intricately detailed, staggeringly larger-than-life exhibitions to life? The answer is a dedicated team of artists, curators, and fabricators, all working together to coordinate, install, and up-keep the final product on display in the galleries. Much of this behind-the-scenes work rests on the sturdy (and dare we say stylish) shoulders of our talented curatorial assistant, Matthew Lax, who graduated from Syracuse University with a BFA in Film and Video Art. On the final day of his year-long tenure with the curatorial department at MASS MoCA, Matthew sheds some light on the secret visual arts magic he’s been doing behind the curtain all this time:

I have worked in the curatorial department at the museum for about a year, organizing the installation of about seven major art exhibitions, from concept development to execution.

The art needs to be keep in pristine condition. That’s me cleaning Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing 47. (I bet you didn’t know we do that!)

My second day on the job was spent knee-deep in dirt and Styrofoam for the de-install of Katharina Grosse’s One Floor Up More Highly in Building 5. The following week, I was neck-deep in the planning for Gisele Amantea’s 97 foot long flocked installation, Democracy (pictured above), as part of the exhibition, Oh, Canada. Needless to say, we move quickly here.

Here I am on a lift, getting the wall ready for Wanda Koop’s Look Up, part of Oh, Canada. Good thing I’m not scared of heights…

I also spent a lot of time in the rafters. Here, I’m helping prepare for the opening of more gallery space in a new building.

Ever tried Eryn Foster’s yeast concoction in Oh, Canada? I’ve been keeping our culture fresh since the exhibition opened!

Here I am changing the bulbs in Carlos Garacoia’s No Way Out, on view in ourInvisible Cities exhibition. I spend a significant portion of my workday in the galleries, maintaining artworks and fixing audio/visual equipment.

I’m especially excited about the opening of our upcoming Building 5 exhibition: Xu Bing’s Phoenix (on view December 22 – check it out!). That’s me wearing a hard hat in the gallery during the installation process.

Here I am with my sweet friend Emily Evans, marketing coordinator, at the  Invisible Cities opening. Lee Bul’s sculptures are suspended in the background.

I had heard of MASS MoCA before I started working here, but had never actually been. I had followed a few exhibitions closely online, but was spellbound when I saw the renovated factory in person. I remember Meg Robertson, company manager, and Art McConnell, director of building and grounds, showing me the sprawling campus on my first day. I remember the magic that seemed to emanate from every corner, undeveloped or not, and that feeling almost become a trademark for my time here.

“Do you believe the stuff you’re saying?” a patron once asked me, after I gave her an admittedly condensed rundown of the history of conceptual art. “I believe in MASS MoCA,” I responded. I believe in our ethos and dedication to fostering new art. I believe in our incredible history, the spectacular gallery spaces, our ever-growing roster of talented and creative artists, our amazing staff, and the patrons who continue to visit, year after year.

You might think I’d tire of looking at “the same old stuff” everyday, but sometimes I just have to stop and stare. The magic of this place is never lost on me.


Posted December 14, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Interns, Invisible Cities, LeWitt, Museum Education, Oh Canada, Staff, Uncategorized
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My Favorite MASS MoCA Moments

Katherine Myers reflects on her 14-year relationship with MASS MoCA as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

Besides my 16-year marriage, 14 years is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere. These have been particularly milestone-filled years:  I’ve lost two parents and a lot of eyesight, gained a daughter and a legion of remarkable friends and colleagues, and witnessed more great art than anyone living in a town of less than 15K could possibly dream of.

Given that long history, it’s a challenge to provide a “Top 10” List, but a recent plane trip offered me time for contemplation. Here’s what I came up with, presented in no particular order.

1. Michael Oatman has popped up regularly over the last decade and a half.  I first met him when he was in Unnatural Science (2000) where his incredibly detailed installation schooled me in Vermont’s scandalous history of eugenics. When I was introduced to his collages in Becoming Animal (2005), I was even more taken with him. His suspended Airstream trailer is an absolute marvel and he is a delightful person. Every institution should be so lucky to have an artist like Michael in their “stable.”

2.  I love that MASS MoCA does some events that are pure camp, simultaneously high quality and totally over the top.  On this list: Tragedy (2011), our heavy metal BeeGees cover band who repeatedly told us “We love you North Adams City!” and Corn Mo and the Wau Wau Sisters (2005) which involved a trapeze, a sparkly jumpsuit, Meatloaf covers and Catholic school uniforms.  What a night.

3. Hotel Pool (2005) was produced by MASS MoCA but took place in the pool at the Williams Inn. It was a play and a water ballet with some shocking moments. Incredibly well-crafted and enjoyable.

4. It’s probably no surprise that the shows I like best are the ones with the coolest stuff to see. Crowd pleasers are easiest to sell and, when attendance rises, everyone is happier. On my favorite shows list: Oh, Canada (2012), Unnatural Science (2000), Huang Yong Ping’s retrospective (2006), Uncommon Denominator (2002), Becoming Animal (2005), and Cai Guo Qiang’s exploding cars in Inopportune (2004).

5. Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screentests (2009): The films are completely mesmerizing on their own and Dean & Britta’s score and live performance only served to enhance them.

6. Ann Hamilton’s corpus (2003) taught me the magical power of an art installation.  My father-in-law passed away while Ann’s falling paper was on view.  His death was not unexpected and he had lived a good, long life. When my husband called me that morning with the news, there was no reason to head home but a pause for reflection did seem appropriate. It was before the museum opened; I just started to wander in the galleries and, without thinking, found myself in corpus which was truly the ideal place to reflect on a loss and a life well-lived.

7. Anouk Van Dijk’s Stau (2006) started with dancers emerging from underneath your seat. Then, somehow in the middle, you were standing and all the seats were gone and you were milling about in a pitch black theater when suddenly spots came up illuminating dancers, sometimes right in front of your nose.  The piece ended with dancers and audience writhing against the wall to a deafening percussive soundtrack. Sound crazy? It was, but it was also probably the most viscerally affecting performance I’ve ever experienced.

8. Of All the People in All the World (2007), which involved millions of grains of rice representing various population statistics arrayed in the Hunter Center, brought a 100% lovely group of British actors from Stan’s Café to North Adams for a couple of weeks.  We get to know many wonderful artists but these Brits count among the most delightful. Coupled with the beautiful, clever, moving installation, it was an exceptional experience.

9. Material World (2011) made great use of MASS MoCA’s strengths; the exhibit utilized our remarkable space to great effect from the Wade Kavanaugh and Steven Nguyen’s paper forest to Tobias Putrih’s illuminated fishing line, inspired by our local Hoosac Tunnel.  It was accessible, jaw-dropping, fun, and interesting for all ages.

10. Canadian singer Patrick Watson’s performance this past summer (2012) was nothing short of magical.  At first, we were disappointed that the show was inside on a beautiful summer night. Yet, when we saw what he did with the lights, we were so glad that he had insisted on the darkness that only Club B-10 could provide at 8 PM on an evening in late June.

And one more for good measure…

11. Solid Sound Festival is really non-stop work for our staff. At the first Solid Sound (2010), the only music I actually listened to was the first three songs of the Mavis Staples set which included “The Weight.” Bone-tired late in the day on Saturday, I enjoyed Mavis’s performance from a special rooftop vantage point and received a much-needed spiritual boost (and sitting down for 15 minutes didn’t hurt either).

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What did you like the best over the past 14 years?

Posted December 7, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance, Exhibitions, Film+Live Music, Material World, Music, Oh Canada, Staff, Theater, Tragedy: The All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees, Wilco Solid Sound Festival
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If you’re sad, and like beer, I’m your lady.

So says beer baroness Lady Port-Huntley in Guy Maddin’s off-kilter masterpiece The Saddest Music in the World. Maddin’s 2003 film showcases his hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba in the sad, strange, and funny story of a world-wide contest to find the saddest piece of music in existence. Lady Port-Huntley (played by Isabella Rosellini) launches the odd contest after Winnipeg is named the “Sorrow Capital of the World” for the fourth consecutive year. Musicians descend upon Winnipeg for their chance to win the $25,000 first prize. The event draws eccentric contestants from across the globe but ultimately boils down to competition within one family: a patriotic Canadian father and his two sons, one representing the United States, and the other representing Serbia.

Like many of Maddin’s films, this sort-of musical utilizes a lo-fi look and sound, reminiscent of the silent movies and early talkies of 1920 and 1930s, an aesthetic similar to this year’s runaway hit and Academy Award winner for Best Picture, The Artist (directed by Michel Hazanavicius). The Saddest Music in the World is filmed mostly in grainy black and white and with slightly out-of-sync sound. In an interview with hobo magazine, Maddin explains, “The 1920s have always seemed eternally modern to me, but they’re really the primitive days of cinema, technologically speaking…And there was something about the vocabulary of film in that decade, when it still could’ve gone off in any number of directions; that excited me. It reminded me of a child learning to talk.”

The Saddest Music in the World is presented in conjunction with Oh, Canada (MASS MoCA’s survey of contemporary Canadian art on view through April 2013). Maddin frequently collaborates with other film and performance artists. Most notably, Canadian artist Noam Gonick, whose video installation Wildflowers of Manitoba is on view in Oh Canada, directed the documentary Waiting for Twilight, which depicts the enigmatic Maddin’s daily life and work and is narrated by Tom Waits.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Canadian cinema, an interested film lover, or this is your first time dipping your toes into the Canadian art pool, Guy Maddin’s work is sure to charm you. The Saddest Music in the World is a comedy that “can serve as an introduction to the work of Canada’s most original filmmaker or as a culmination of everything he’s done before,” cites Newsday.

If this weekend’s film forecast includes a few too many big budget Hollywood flicks for your taste (Taken 2, really?), catch The Saddest Music in the World  in MASS MoCA’s Club B-10 on Saturday, October 27 at 4 PM. Tickets are $5. Call the Box Office at 413.662.2111 or purchase online.

Posted October 25, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Film, Oh Canada
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Did you love Beer Garden last year? Look what is in store this summer!

We hope you had the pleasure of visiting The Chalet: a bar/art installation by Dean Baldwin over the Oh, Canada opening weekend.  Dean built and outfitted a fantastic A-frame inside our Building 8 and served drinks to Canadians and Americans alike last Friday and Saturday. As was the case last year when our dear friends from Bureau for Open Culture  ran the Beer Garden, it proved to be a popular spot for socializing.

We’re delighted to announce that the tradition continues. Starting June 21, The Chalet will be open every Thursday from 6 – 9  PM (with special appearances by Dean himself, on occasion!). A full bar will be available and you’ll be able to sit under the trees along the river to enjoy your beverage of choice.

Please stop by for the kick off on Thursday, June 21.

We start summer gallery hours then too, so you can visit the galleries until 6 and then relax at the bar before attending Here Lies Love in the Hunter Center.

See you there eh?

Posted June 5, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Here Lies Love, Oh Canada, Parties, Secrets of MASS MoCA

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Catching Up with Joe

Museum director Joe Thompson blogs about the latest goings-on at MASS MoCA.

I love mud season because it kicks off MASS MoCA’s most intense season of making art. It’s our sugaring season. Our performing arts stages are booked solid with residencies, and the galleries are abuzz with visiting artists.

I caught Gisele Amantea in the act of converting our Hunter foyer into what may end up feeling a little bit like a Canadian bordello (which is to say polite, and rather chic), riffing wildly on a Louis Sullivan decorative motif from the tomb of the wife of one of the architect’s greatest Chicago patrons, Ellis Wainwright.

But Gisele (seen here in the middle, with black shirt) is also riffing on the “MASS” in MASS MoCA — her finger poking gently in our ribs for our penchant for large-scale work — by elaborating the delicate fleur-de-lis designs into man-eating dimension: every part of the design that is now white will soon be flocked into light-sucking blackness, and extended for the full 90’ length of the space.

This is the powerful first contribution by a Canadian artist to our upcoming Oh, Canada show, opening this Memorial Day.

On a more precipitous timeline is Making Room, the Space Between Two and Three Dimensions, which just opened Saturday.


Claire Harvey was in town this past week for Making Room, doing an extraordinary series of tiny paintings on small pieces of glass and acetate, which are then projected on the walls and other provisional surfaces using old-fashioned overhead projectors, like your teacher used to do in fifth grade.  It’s startling how much modeling and complex space she can generate in renderings that in some cases are only ¾” high, but which gain extraordinary presence when projected and enlarged to a height of 5’ tall.

Continuing the theme of utilizing obsolete techniques with new media technology and inventive presentation,  Chloë Østmo was also in North Adams this past week, fastidiously suspending over 200 photographs on a grid of cotton thread. The amazing effect is that of a single image. Here is a shot showing Chloë’s process midway through installation.

This is going to be a sleeper of an exhibition, full of engaging art, rich narratives, and interesting cross-references: a true show. It is superbly selected by Caitlin Condell and Ali Nemerov, both now students in the Williams College-Clark Art Graduate Program in the History of Art, and MASS MoCA graduate interns. The eleventh in our series of exhibitions organized by up-and-coming curators, and realized with the support of the Clark (and, in this case, the helpful guidance of MASS MoCA curator Susan Cross), the exhibition is a fascinating bookend to the previous iteration of this series, Memery, which celebrated the internet’s capacity to propel strange bits of otherwise forgettable popular culture deep into our collective memories through sheer repetition and the power of web-buzz.  Making Room, on the other hand, focuses on work that celebrates and rewards careful looking through creation of complex visual spaces and thoughtful forms that feel, at times with a wisp of nostalgia, like an antidote to online frenzy.

Posted February 27, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Exhibitions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Making Room: The Space Between Two & Three Dimensions, Oh Canada, Work-in-progress
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